There was a lot of build up for this book, what with it advertising that it was "by turns loved and reviled upon its publication," plus I remember atThere was a lot of build up for this book, what with it advertising that it was "by turns loved and reviled upon its publication," plus I remember at least three separate people talking to me about it when it was first released. It made its way on to my shelf as a Christmas present (not mine, even) and being intrigued and at lose ends for my next book, I picked it up.
I read the first half of the book in two sittings over two days and spent most of my time firstly wondering at the fact that I didn't hate it (young hip and artsy people wondering "how should a person be?" can, you know, get annoying) and secondly, thinking of all my female friends that I would recommend it to. And then, well, I sort of petered out. The drama of the middle part of the book, such as it was, felt a bit manufactured. Everyone felt big, deep things and there were huge breaches of trust, but honestly, I couldn't figure out quite what all the fuss was about. Then, as the book came to a close, it certainly felt like something had been accomplished, and there was closure, but again, I'm not totally sure what necessitated the closure in the first place.
The structure is pretty interesting—episodic short chapters, sometimes written in epistolary fashion or as if you were reading a play—although I hated the numbered sentences in all the emails (not really a big deal, but why are those numbers there?).
But honestly, I'm not sure that this book is as genius or as indulgent or as insightful or as navel-gazing as anyone seems to think it is. I don't regret reading it, certainly, and I will remember things from it, but not in any sort of deep, life-changing fashion....more
I spontaneously picked this book up from a shelf at the library dedicated to authors who took part in the recent Reykjavík International Literary FestI spontaneously picked this book up from a shelf at the library dedicated to authors who took part in the recent Reykjavík International Literary Festival. I'd never read anything by Douglas Coupland and loved the idea of Player One's compressed timeline, as well as the motley cast of characters. The book starts gorgeously—it almost reads like a one act play, with snappy dialog and full passages that you can't help but read out loud to the person next to you—but the momentum dissolves rather abruptly after the apocalypse actually takes place. The Player One conceit is a bit heavy handed and the worlds' end observations made by the various characters (or the narrator) cease to be all that unique.
Nevertheless, there is a wonderful fluidity to Coupland's writing, a run-on rhythm which is really fun to read. Moreover, most of the characters (with one or two exceptions) are authentically, creatively quirky, and feel like real, if slightly enlarged, personalities. And I also have to give Coupland credit for writing a novel set in the present which features a number of pop culture and technology references without feeling immediately stale or dated.
And so, in deference to the early strength of the book and the aforementioned run-on rhythms, I'll quote an early passage which is part of the introduction to the character Karen, a recently divorced woman traveling to Toronto to meet with the man she hopes will become her lover:
There's a teenage boy across the aisle in the row ahead of Karen who has glanced her way a few times on this flight. Karen is flattered to think she might be considered hot—albeit a "hot mom"—but then she also knows that this horny kid probably has some kind of sin-detecting hand-held gadget lurking in his shirt pocket, lying in wait for Karen to undo more buttons or pick her nose or perform any other silly act that was formerly considered private, a silly act that will ultimately appear on a gag-photo website alongside JPEGs of baseball team portraits in which one member is actively vomiting, or on a movie site where teenagers, utterly unaware of the notion of cause and effect, jump from suburban rooftops onto trampolines, whereupon they die.
Having finished this book just minutes ago, I'm by no means ready to really write anything of substance about it. However, an initial reaction seems wHaving finished this book just minutes ago, I'm by no means ready to really write anything of substance about it. However, an initial reaction seems warranted, as this was just such an enveloping reading experience. I'm reminded of a bookstore owner's description of his favorite (vampire) novel (Anne Rice's Queen of the Damned, if you're interested): "It's just so large."
For a book that is actually a lot of fun to read (even when the events of the narrative are downright harrowing), A Tale for the Time Being is also a surprisingly dense read, bringing together such a variety of narratives and narrative techniques and schools of thought and iconic (recent) historical moments, that I did have to set it down every now and then and take a breather (I actually spent a week just reading another book from start to finish as a sort of palate cleanser.) A short and incomplete summary of some of the main themes/concepts/subjects: Zen Buddhism, suicide, depression, alternate realities, quantum physics, Schrodinger's cat, the 2011 tsunami in Japan, 9/11, Japanese cosplay communities, bullying in (Japanese) schools, tidal currents, landscape art, and, of course, theories of time...Anyway, it's a lot of food for thought and I imagine that I will be thinking this book over for a long time to come. ...more
The fictional world of Québécois novelist Jacques Poulin can, poetically speaking, be likened to a snow globe: a minutely-detailed landscape peppered with characters who appear to be frozen in one lovely, continuous moment. Mister Blue, recently published in a new English translation, captures this timelessness in a fluid and deceptively simple story about the complex bonds that can develop between completely unlike people, if only they are allowed to.
Brooklyn’s Archipelago Books has previously released two Poulin novels—Spring Tides and Translation is a Love Affair—both of which share some basic fundamentals with Mister Blue. Each of these slender novels feature reclusive literary types (authors and translators), their beloved cats (all with names worthy of T.S. Eliot’s Practical Cats: Matousalem, Mr. Blue, Charade, Vitamin), and enigmatic strangers who quickly insinuate themselves into the lives and imaginations of the aforementioned writers. But although Poulin frequently returns to the same themes, the same hyper-specific scenarios and characters in his work, each of his novels retain a freshness and idiosyncratic sweetness that reward readers with small revelations and happy coincidences.
Mister Blue opens on Jim, “the slowest writer in Quebec,” a former Hemingway scholar turned full-time novelist who now summers in his dilapidated childhood home, a ramshackle cottage in a quiet, uninhabited bay on the Ile d’Orleans. Jim’s daily writing follows a quiet routine with little to punctuate it other than semi-regular tennis matches with his brother, feeding and tending to his cats and the scrappy strays that invite themselves into his home, and solitary walks on the beach in front of his home. It is on just such a walk that Jim discovers footprints in the sand leading to a cave where someone has been camping. Finding a copy of The Arabian Nights in the cave with the name “Marie K.” written on the flyleaf, Jim becomes instantly besotted with this mysterious unseen stranger, whom he nicknames Marika.
Here, as in Translation is a Love Affair, real life quickly begins to intermingle with fiction and vice-versa. For Poulin’s characters, life itself is a process of composition, improvised and redrafted as unforeseen events take place. As Jim struggles to write a love story, he becomes convinced that his authorial problems can all be chalked up to the fact that he has ignored Hemingway’s rule: “a writer must stick to the subject he knows best.” He surmises that his story has stalled because “I was trying to write a love story without being in love myself.” Ergo, he whimsically decides, he must “take a closer interest in that person named Marika.”
But matters of the heart, much like matters of fiction, are not so easily constructed. Instead of meeting Marika, he meets a woman named Bungalow, a former housewife who left her “gilded cage” to run a shelter for young women in Old Quebec, and La Petite, who lives at the shelter but increasingly becomes a regular visitor at Jim’s cottage. The arrival of these two women takes both Jim’s fictional and real life love stories off course: the mysterious Marika continues to elude him, and obstinately, his fictional characters become friends instead of lovers, despite his frequent attempts to revise their relationship. The romantic story that he set out to write (and to live) gives way, ever so slowly, to a gentler, more protective, tender kind of love—that between himself and the curious, lovable, but often volatile La Petite—the love between a parent and child.
In simple, clean prose (musically rendered in Sheila Fischman’s translation) Poulin delivers his bittersweet tale with a restraint that belies true joy, the dogged optimism that complete strangers from totally different backgrounds and circumstances can find in each other real empathy and kindness. That such connections are right there in front of us, if only we trouble to look for them.
“What matters are the emotional ties that connect people and form a vast, invisible web without which the world would crumble,” Jim realizes. “Everything else to which people devote the greater part of their time, looking very serious as they do so, is of only minor importance.”...more
I have loved this book, devotedly, since I was a child, but I hadn't re-read it in I-don't-know-how-many years. And it was particularly interesting toI have loved this book, devotedly, since I was a child, but I hadn't re-read it in I-don't-know-how-many years. And it was particularly interesting to revisit the book given that (apparently) my most vivid memories of the story are from the TV mini-series with Colleen Dewhurst and Megan Fellows. I can honestly say that the TV adaptation is really wonderful and captures the spirit of the book--and the most memorable episodes--wonderfully, but there are some reasonably significant changes made. Many of these are minor--a change of characters in one scene, combining two others, gently changing the order of small happenings--nothing too big.
But there are some larger changes which overall are not problematic, but do soften things a bit for the TV audience. Marilla, for one, is a lot more reserved and specifically unwilling to share her affection with Anne openly until almost the very end of the book, where in the mini-series, she's a bit more lovey earlier on. Also, Anne's cold-shouldering of Gilbert Blythe actually goes on for five years in the book--and there's really no romance to it at all. In the series, he softens her up a lot earlier (I think right after the Lilly Maid escapade) and the romance comes to the fore a bit more obviously. Neither of these is really a big deal, again, but it was interesting to come across them and realize how my memories of the book have been so wrapped up in the TV version. Sort of like reading Pride and Prejudice finally and then having to compare the written text with the BBC version running through my head.
Aside from my TV-series memories and comparisons, I noticed things about the actual writing in this book that I, of course, didn't when I read this as a child. For one, it is extremely episodic, and structured not unlike a TV show or radio play. Anne's 'scrapes' and escapades each take a chapter of their own, and a lot of time passes between one happening and the next. From Montgomery's asides about time and seasons passing, you also get the feeling that there is a whole world outside of the book that continues and flourishes and you never see. This is most evident in the way that Anne talks of most of her interactions with Matthew, and also the way in which you begin to get a sense of her rivalries at school with Josie Pye and other secondary characters. It's much less the day-to-day chronology that I remember, and much more focused on giving us the highlights of Anne's whimsical existence.
Montgomery also has a very interesting way of shifting back and forth between the past and present right in the middle of a scene. It's a little repetitive in pattern every now and then, but definitely effective. Basically, she'll start a scene--a concert that Anne participated in, for instance--in the present, but then, in order to allow Anne to explain the whole event in her own voice, she'll bring you to the future, where Anne is suddenly explaining what happened to Matthew and Marilla in the past tense. Flipping between three tenses like that should be confusing (it sounds confusing the way I explained it, I'm sure), but Montgomery is able to do it rather seamlessly with her dialog. (When I have the book on hand, I'll try to copy an example in here.)
Dialog is another thing that Montgomery really privileges--and is really rather good at. She gets a voice down pretty much immediately and then is able to really run with it. (This might be because the characters are all pretty consistent in their main traits/beliefs/actions from start to finish, but nevertheless.) I never realized, though, how much of the book is dialog--Anne's wonderful rambling monologues take up pages and pages each chapter.
My last observation was that there is more repetition in the book than I remembered, both in terms of scenes and writing. In some cases, it just seemed like Montgomery liked a conceit so much that she came up with a few fun scenes and couldn't decide between the two, so she picked both. A good example would be the episode in which Anne accidentally 'sets Diana drunk' and later, the 'matter of the linament cake.' In both scenarios, Marilla directs Anne to use something in the pantry (raspberry cordial; vanilla extract) and in both, there's a mix-up because Marilla actually moved or mislabeled the bottle. And Anne doesn't drink the 'cordial' (which is actually wine) because she's fixing tea and she can't smell that the vanilla is actually linament because she has a cold. Hilarity ensues and both are great, but they are basically the same scene. Likewise, long scenes or Anne-dialogs are often ended with Marilla making some joke about how whatever happening hasn't injured Anne's tongue at all, which gets a little punchline-y after awhile.
But honestly, reading this book puts me exactly back where I was when I read it the first time, when I was eight or nine. Anne is so charming and hopeful and ambitious and smart and bold and full of life and earnestness, and the book just breaks your heart for all its sweetness and good-natured mischief-making. ...more
A lovely, multi-layered story which says more about human relationships in its thin volume than many more showy books do in double the page count. TheA lovely, multi-layered story which says more about human relationships in its thin volume than many more showy books do in double the page count. The prose is clear and simple, as is the story--at least at first. But Poulin manages to create very vivid worlds and circumstances for his characters, each of whom have very real back stories, quirks, and habits, and each of whom is seeking their own way of really connecting with other people.
Translation is a Love Affair is a novel which celebrates the deep and truly meaningful relationships that one forms unexpectedly--the family that one creates for herself. While its plot is somewhat whimsical--a translator and the author she translates find a cat with a mysterious message for help on its collar and track down the original owner--it conveys the importance of looking out for others, of taking on the responsibility of helping people you see in need, even those you don't truly know.
Oh, the Important Canadians. This is the only one of Atwood's books I’ve read so far (although she wrote a great short story called "Happy Endings" thOh, the Important Canadians. This is the only one of Atwood's books I’ve read so far (although she wrote a great short story called "Happy Endings" that rocks my socks off), but it had a really profound effect on me. A really great old woman narrating (bitter, nostalgic, clever), a bit of a mystery, and a strange imbedded novel that was written by another character in the book. What I really love about Atwood is that she has these perfect descriptions—she thinks of brilliant ways to describe things that catch you off guard and yet seem totally natural....more